ON THE ISRAEL-LEBANON BORDER - Israeli tanks, bulldozers and armored
personnel carriers knocked down a fence and barreled over the Lebanese border
Saturday as forces seized a village from the Hezbollah guerrilla group.
Black smoke billows in
the town of Khiam, in southern Lebanon, Saturday, July 22, 2006, after
Israeli air raids targeted it. Israeli air raids and artillery shelling
also hit the southeast border town of Khiam, Lebanese television and
witnesses reported. They also struck the southern village of Kafra,
killing two people and wounding four
The soldiers battled militants throughout the day and raided the large
village of Maroun al-Ras in several waves before finally taking control,
military officials said. Tens of thousands of Lebanese fleeing north packed into
the port of Sidon to escape the fighting as the United Nations warned of a
growing humanitarian "disaster."
Early Sunday, Israel hit inside Sidon for the first time, destroying a
religious complex linked to Hezbollah and hospital officials said four people
Two other explosions Sunday reverberated across Beirut, apparently caused by
an air raid on Hezbollah areas in the southern suburbs. Warplanes also hit
targets in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley firing missiles in the cities of
Hermel and Baalbek, witnesses said. There was no immediate word on casualties in
The growing use of ground forces, 11 days into the fighting, signaled Israeli
recognition that airstrikes alone were not enough to force Hezbollah out of
southern Lebanon. But a ground offensive carries greater risks to Israel, which
already has lost 18 soldiers in the recent fighting. It also threatens to
exacerbate already trying conditions for Lebanese civilians in the area.
Israeli military officials have said they want to push Hezbollah beyond the
Litani River, about 20 miles north of the border, with the Lebanese army
deploying in the border zone. An Israeli radio station that broadcasts to
southern Lebanon warned residents of 13 villages to flee north by Saturday
afternoon. The villages form a corridor about 4 miles wide and 11 miles deep.
With Lebanese fearing an escalation in the battle, international officials
worked to end the conflict.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was set to arrive in the Middle East on
Sunday, though she ruled out a quick cease-fire as a "false promise."
President Bush said his administration's diplomatic efforts would focus on
finding a strategy for confronting Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers.
"Secretary Rice will make it clear that resolving the crisis demands
confronting the terrorist group that launched the attacks and the nations that
support it," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Italy, which has been trying to mediate an end to the fighting, said it would
hold a conference Wednesday to work out the basis for a truce agreement. U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed a beefed-up U.N. force along the
Lebanese border, but Israel has called for the Lebanese army to take control of
Annan said the conflict had displaced at least 700,000 Lebanese so far, and
Israel's destruction of bridges and roads has made access to them difficult.
"I'm afraid of a major humanitarian disaster," he told CNN.
U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said it would take more than $100 million
to help the displaced. He said he would make an appeal "urging, begging" the
international community for contributions.
As part of an effort to avert such a crisis, Israel eased its blockade of
Lebanon's ports to allow the first shiploads of aid to arrive. It remained
unclear how that aid would get to the isolated towns and villages where the
fighting has been centered.
Israel has attacked mostly with airstrikes, but small units have crossed the
border in recent days and fought with Hezbollah fighters.
A far larger force of about 2,000 troops entered the area Saturday trying to
root out Hezbollah bunkers and destroy hidden rocket launchers.
The troops, backed by tanks and armored vehicles, raced past a U.N. outpost
and headed into Maroun al-Ras. Gunfire could be heard coming from the village,
and artillery batteries in Israel also fired into the area.
"The forces have completed, more or less, their control of the area of the
village, Maroun al-Ras, and made lots of hits against terrorists," said Maj.
Gen. Benny Gantz, chief of Israel's ground forces. "It was a difficult fight
that continued for not a short time."